News & Views
Last week, addressing a seminar Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif stressed the need for political stability in the country, and it was important for all to shun confrontation and focus on cooperation so that mega projects could be completed in prescribed times. Some politicos and commentriat misinterpreted his statement, and related it to the demand of the opposition to form a judicial commission headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan to probe into the Panama Papers leak. Without understanding the connotation and context in which he had remarked they considered his statement as an interference in political domain. In fact, General Raheel Sharif made a special reference to the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, that was blatantly involved in destabilising Pakistan. “Having passed through a tough fight against terrorism, we have now come a long way in our struggle for stability and development.
Terming the CPEC a lifetime opportunity for Pakistan to improve the socio-economic equation of its underprivileged areas and populace, he told the people of Balochistan that they would benefit the most from the fruits of this project. “In my belief, CPEC is poised to bring a true economic transformation to the province. In the place of today’s rugged mountains and lifeless barren deserts, we look forward to the emergence of modern infrastructure, special economic zones, health facilities and universities which will bring enduring benefits to our people,” the army chief said. He asserted the greatest asset of the country was youth; the hope and future of this great nation. He deserves credit for having provided opportunities to Baloch youth to pursue their skill development careers and also inspired them to join military. And thousands of them are serving the army.
General Raheel Sharif often spoke about nexus of corruption and terrorism, but some politicos and analysts misconstrued his statement and were upset over the word of corruption, as if it was hint to the ruling elite. Scandals regarding corruption, misappropriation, plundering of billions from banks and other federal, provincial and semi-government departments abound. It is because of corrupt practices of the ruling that a resourceful country like Pakistan has been brought to the present pass. Transparency International in its report for 2014 had stated: “Though politicians in Pakistan constantly accuse each other of corrupt practices and vow to end this evil, but when they come to power, corruption continues to rise in Pakistan and the rest of South Asia.” But how can a corrupt person be held responsible by corrupt authority or an institution which is itself corrupt? It is a matter of grave concern that corruption has deeply permeated in every strata of our society.
According to an earlier Transparency International Pakistan’s report, Pakistan lost more than Rs.8,500 billion (Rs8.5 trillion or US$94 billion) in corruption, tax evasion and bad governance during the last four years of the PPP government. Though National Accountability Bureau claimed that it had recovered a part of the plundered money, yet most culprits either escaped or were honorably acquitted by the courts due to lacuna in prosecution and investigation, lack of evidence or witnesses. During Zia era, as a result of Afghan war American dollars flooded the market, but since 1988 corruption has broken all the previous records. In the past, efforts were made to reduce the incidence of corruption. During Ayub era, a number of corruption-tainted politicians were barred from participating in the elections under EBDO but they were never tried and convicted. During Yahya Khan’s Martial Law, 303 civil servants and government functionaries were summarily dismissed but were not prosecuted.
During the Bhutto era, services of around 1100 government employees were terminated without holding any trial against them with the result those involved in serious cases of corruption were let off the hook. There was another package for the corrupt under Pervez Musharraf’s watch on April 30, 2000, when Central Board of Revenue had announced Tax Amnesty Scheme to legalize all the hidden assets and black money by charging 10 per cent of the undisclosed income earned on or before June 30, 1999. Even the present government provided an opportunity to the corrupt to whiten their black money by paying only 1 per cent. One would not find such example of rewarding the tax evaders and those having plundered the national exchequer. In other words, nobody tried to set an example to deter others from pursuing corrupt practices.
In 1996, Transparency International had declared Pakistan as the second-most corrupt country in the world where corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, black marketers, smugglers, tax evaders and drug mafia were ‘rewarded’ through general amnesty schemes or through opportunities to whiten their black money. In this connection, bureaucracy had played an ignominious role by misguiding the government not to act tough because otherwise there would be flight of capital and economy will collapse. The problem is that mostly those who have amassed wealth through illegal means can afford the luxury of elections. Such elements first invest to reach the corridors of power with a view to increasing their wealth, and then they want to be re-elected to protect that ill-gotten wealth. But there is need to take measures to stop unethical and corrupt practices, and to block the corrupt elements’ entry into the corridors of power. But who can bell the cat, when majority of the robber barons sit in the assemblies?
Unfortunately, the corruption has not only deprived the national exchequer of its revenues and eroded the profitability of the state sector enterprises but also destroyed the very fabric of society. It is also responsible for having brought the country to the brink of economic disaster. In 1998, late Dr Mehboob-ul-Haq had estimated tax-evasion to the extent of rupees 100 billion through manipulation of accounts, in addition to the tax evasion of around Rs.100 billion by the parallel or informal economy. But now the estimated loss to the exchequer is estimated at Rs.1000 billion. The tiny elite, comprising jagirdars, industrial robber barons, corrupt bureaucracy and rapacious politicians have kept complete control over the state, its resources and all levers of power. They neither had the vision nor the will to build a modern and egalitarian society, though Pakistan had all the resources and ingredients to achieve the objectives set by the founding fathers.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.